- The Washington Times - Friday, November 14, 2003

VIRGINIA BEACH — The jury in the John Allen Muhammad sniper trial deliberated four hours yesterday without reaching a verdict and will resume its task on Monday.

The jurors were in the courtroom twice for a total of about five minutes — once to receive instructions from Prince William County Circuit Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. at 9 a.m. and then to be released for the weekend at 1 p.m.

The judge has adjourned proceedings early on Fridays since the start of the trial.

Relatives of numerous shooting victims were in the courtroom yesterday in case a verdict was reached.

Judge Millette told the seven women and five men on the jury that he would not sequester them for the weekend but that they had to avoid all news reports about the trial.

“The case is now in your hands … You have to be absolutely committed to following the court’s instruction,” he told the jury.

Judge Millette has said that he will not release evidence to the trial of sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo until a verdict is reached in the Muhammad trial.

The absence of a verdict means that Malvo prosecutors will not have physical evidence, such as the Bushmaster rifle that has been linked ballistically to the sniper shootings, when they present their case on Monday.

Fairfax County Circuit Judge Jane Marum Roush on Thursday delayed Mr. Malvo’s trial until Monday, hoping a verdict would be reached in the Muhammad trial by then.

Prosecutor James A. Willett, Prince William assistant commonwealth’s attorney, said the evidence mixup “could have been avoided.”

“Our case was scheduled. Certainly people knew there would be an overlap of this type and no one took steps to accommodate that,” he said.

Fairfax prosecutor Robert F. Horan asked Judge Roush in October to delay Mr. Malvo’s trial at least a month, but Judge Roush denied that request.

Judge Roush’s last indication was that the Malvo trial will go forward on Monday, “regardless of what happens in Virginia Beach, whether we have the evidence or not,” said Mark Cox, Chesapeake city spokesman.

Mr. Muhammad, 42, and Mr. Malvo, 18, have been tied to the 13 sniper shootings that left 10 dead and three wounded in the Washington area during three weeks in October 2002. They also have been linked to nine other shootings in five states.

The elder sniper suspect is on trial in the Oct. 9, 2002, slaying of Dean Harold Meyers, 53, at a Manassas gas station. He is charged with one count of capital murder for masterminding an act of terrorism, and another for killing more than one person in three years. He also is charged with conspiracy and illegal use of a firearm.

In closing arguments Thursday, Muhammad defense attorney Peter D. Greenspun argued that the prosecution was relying on “suspicion, speculation and innuendo” to pressure the jury into a guilty verdict when no evidence was presented that Mr. Muhammad ever pulled the trigger.

Prosecutors said overwhelming evidence — including ballistic tests matching 11 of the Washington-area shootings to the Bushmaster rifle found in Mr. Muhammad’s car — shows the defendant to be guilty of at least planning, coordinating and directing the shootings.

“Yes, this is a circumstantial case. But I would suggest that you will probably never see a more compelling circumstantial case than the case you’ve seen in the last few weeks,” Richard A. Conway, Prince William assistant commonwealth’s attorney, said during closing arguments Thursday.

All 476 pieces of evidence are available to the jurors, and their decision to take the weekend to mull over the case and testimony by 142 witnesses may indicate they mean to review the entire trial. No one knows how long that could take.

“I gave up trying to predict juries a long time ago,” said Muhammad defense attorney Jonathan Shapiro.

The jury asked for a tape player midway through the morning so they could listen to recordings of 911 calls made after shootings, as well as calls made to police in an attempt to extort $10 million. The tape player prosecutors gave them did not work, and the jury will listen to the recordings on Monday.

If the jury reaches a guilty verdict on Monday, the trial will enter the sentencing phase, in which prosecutors will present evidence and witnesses to argue that Mr. Muhammad deserves the death penalty. Defense attorneys will argue that their client should be sentenced to life in prison, followed by a short rebuttal by the prosecution.

That process is expected to take at least a week. Defense attorneys will argue a motion Monday morning to bar victim-impact testimony for shooting victims other than Mr. Meyers.

Larry Meyers, 60, Mr. Meyers’ brother, said Thursday that he does not have a preference as to whether the defendant receives the death penalty or life in prison.

“We have much sadness, a deep hurt. A deep void is there because we know Dean is not going to be with us,” he said. “Prayer is probably the most powerful element one can have … We will not be beaten by this. We do not hold hatred for anyone. We despise the actions that were taken, but the perpetrators were human, just like ourselves.”

Yesterday, Judge Millette said, “If we can get this done before Thanksgiving, I would appreciate it and I think the jurors would, too.”

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